To say that the situation in Manus Island is awful is a massive understatement. Despite this a large portion of the population seem distressingly okay with it.
I realise that the issue of border security and refugees attempting to get to this country by sea is a complex one; and I suspect that this- along with some particularly vicious exploitation for political purposes- is a complicating factor in why many people don’t get as upset as I might expect over the treatment of these refugees.
But to me, it comes down to a pretty simple question. Does anyone really think the unfortunate refugees on Manus Island deserve this kind of abuse?
The refugees are yet to be charged with a crime because they haven’t committed one. And yet they have languished in a prison camps for four and half years and provided with little medical or psychological treatment (a few have even died for lack of such treatment).
And the refugees are not wanted by the Papuan population either. Incidences of local population and even soldiers attacking refugees and even firing shots into the camp and wounding them have been documented.
It was unsurprising then that when the camp was finally closed by order of Papaun Courts and attempts were made to relocate the detainees to new unfinished facilities near the main population centre of Lorengau, the refugees refused, rightly fearing for their safety at the hands of the local population.
So power was cut off to the camp, and still for days the refugees stayed, protesting peacefully until yesterday when the Papuan police stormed the compound and brutally forced the refugees into buses to be relocated.
Our government clearly just wants these people to disappear and cares little what happens to them once the public interest shifts. But I for one hold grave fears for them and am truly ashamed at their treatment in my name.
So I ask again, do these unfortunate people deserve this? It would seem pretty clear that their actions alone don’t deserve this kind of abuse. And make no mistake, it is abuse. Everyone from the UN, our own senate committees and medical workers on the island have told us so. The Australian government has threatened whistle blowers with jail and denied the media access to the site. They have also paid 70 million dollars in compensation so far to avoid facing these charges in court.
But supporters of the policy will argue that I am missing a bigger picture. As I have written previously these arguments appear problematic. There is clearly no economic imperative, as this program is costing billions. The argument that this is being done for humane reasons to prevent deaths at sea is also brutally exposed when refugees die within our own concentration camps or are killed when they are returned to their country of origin.
As I wrote at the start of this piece, I don't deny that border protection is a complex situation and I don't claim to have a neat solution. However offshore detention has been a demonstrable failure and responsibility lies with the Australian government (as its chief architect) to find an alternative.